Letter on Progressive Muslims

(This letter to the editor was published in the journal First Things, January 2019)

Paul Rowan Brian (“Muslims in American Politics,” November) has deftly laid bare the source of Muslims’ predicament in the United States: their profound anxiety over being accepted as “real” Americans, and the tendency of this anxiety to overcome their confidence in the truth of their religious principles. Muslims’ need for acceptance is what makes the flattery of the left so tempting to them, and the malice of many on the right so unbearable.

I witnessed this recently at a Catholic institution, during a panel discussion about the harm of American courts’ recognition of same-sex marriage. Two Muslims accompanied me: one an American-born college student of Pakistani descent, and the other a Nigerian visitor to America. As a Muslim I found I disagreed with almost nothing in the panel discussion, and my Nigerian friend was excited to find Catholic Americans who still held to traditional notions of marriage and the human person.

But my Pakistani-American companion left the event furious. During the Q&A, an elderly woman in the audience had in passing made a slightly disparaging remark about Muslims, and for my friend, this had poisoned the entire two-hour discussion. “I don’t ever want to be in these white people’s space again,” he ­blurted. A fascinating exchange followed: For nearly an hour, my ­Nigerian companion, a visitor to America unburdened by an identity crisis, tried and failed to convince a Pakistani-American that he should have the confidence to overlook insults for the benefit of working with those who shared his values.

Islam teaches that God is one, that he created the children of Adam with a noble nature, and that worshipping him includes fulfilling our rights and responsibilities toward one another. Without confidence in these truths, Muslims will continue to be consumed with pain over the right’s skepticism and disdain, will keep accepting the left’s offer of approval in exchange for the souls of their children, and will continue to stagnate as a secular victim identity group. Without confidence in these truths, Muslims will never find the creativity and vigor to fulfill the divine command: to work with people of all faiths to heal America’s soul and body, and leave this land better than it was when they found it.

Ismail Royer
Religious Freedom Institute
Washington, D.C.

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